This post is part of the Countdown Series on ShariLopatin.com, re-publishing my top “writing tips” blog posts from the past five years. The Countdown Series will culminate NEXT WEEK with the announcement of my business’ (Shari’s Ink) new arm, which will benefit other WRITERS!
Originally published Jan. 6, 2012
I’ve been on a creative binge lately. And for the New Year, I want to help inspire you, too!
I’ve been reading books and writing stories about some of the deepest, most profound themes I know.
You know, those deep, dark ideas that give a story its umph. That inspire us to reconsider our own lives. I’m not an English scholar, I’m just a journalist who also writes creatively … and who lives for stories.
To read them. To write them. To share them.
So I can’t tell you exactly why these themes resonate better than others. And of course, I can only speak for myself. However, I’ve noticed some themes inspire us more than others.
And these are them:
As a human race, perhaps one of our strongest Hierarchy of Needs, is the need to belong. The need for family. Think Fiddler on the Roof, or Sound of Music. Family doesn’t have to encompass a Brady Bunch story. The complicated love between rival brothers can tear at your heart more than a summer romance. Or, think of an orphan who’s sought a sense of family throughout her life, only to find rejection time and time again.
If you haven’t already, go see War Horse. War is such a great setting and theme for any story, because it offers the opportunity for many smaller, underlying themes. A husband and wife can reunite after years apart, thinking the other was dead. A sworn enemy can suddenly become a best friend. What does war make us realize about ourselves, as a society, and as individuals?
3. Guilt, and Redemption
Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, tells us that in every story, something or someone must die, or be saved. The theme of guilt and redemption can take us, literally, to that place. What deed in someone’s past could drive that person into utter self-destruction … and what power or action could literally free them, from their own cage? If you’ve ever read The Kite Runner, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
4. Wanting What You Can’t Have
A blind man who longs to see. A woman in love with a married man. A father who would give his life to hold his son, one final time. When we hear stories of others longing for what can never be theirs, we empathize. Our hearts literally ache for this character, as if we’d experienced his or her pain ourselves (and often times, we have).
5. A Forced Life Change
I saw the previews to a movie called The Vow, based on true events. A married couple of five years are in a car accident and both fall into a coma. The wife awakens with no memory. Her husband is a stranger. However, his love for her drives him to try and recreate their relationship, with the hopes his wife will fall in love with him again. Imagine if tomorrow, something dramatic happened to you, or someone you love. Suddenly, you lose your legs, or your child goes blind. How would you, and your loved ones, cope?
6. Identity and Heritage
I once heard a true story about a Mexican-American woman who grew up poor and ashamed of her heritage. When invited to speak at a prestigious event, her mother sewed a traditional Mexican dress for her daughter. The young woman refused it, and instead bought her own. She later married, and refused to teach her children Spanish. Years later, after her mother died, she found the old dress in her mother’s attic, boxed away. This time, she broke down crying. Denial—or even hatred—of one’s self-identity can drive destruction of epic proportions.
WHAT ABOUT YOU? What themes do you find inspiring, lasting? What can you never read enough of, or write too much of?